Indian doctor Mohamed Haneef has now spent two nights in detention in Queensland being grilled by security agencies and the Australian Federal Police about alleged links to last weekend’s attempted bombings in the UK. And now the Australians are preparing to let their British counterparts interrogate Dr Haneef.

But what if Dr Haneef’s reason for buying a one-way ticket to India was simply because he wanted to, as he says, visit his wife Firdous, who is ill, and the couple’s new born baby in Bangalore? And what if the contacts between Dr Haneef and medicos in the UK — who are alleged to be linked to a terror cell in that country — are explainable on the basis that Dr Haneef and some of these doctors might know each other personally or professionally?

No doubt if some or all of this proves to be the case, then Dr Haneef will be released by the authorities. But in the meantime his name has been besmirched in the media with absurd headlines like “Terror doctor”. This morning The Australian, under a headline “Doctor member of sleeper cell” (the quotation marks presumably replacing the qualifier “alleged”), reports breathlessly that, “While no charges have been laid against Dr Haneef, who has been in custody since Monday night, his colleagues have expressed alarm at how seriously police are taking the investigation.”

And naturally the Howard government was eager to assist The Australian in its preparedness to besmirch Dr Haneef. “Senior government sources last night declined to rule out the possibility that the Indian doctor may have been a facilitator or part of a possible ‘sleeper’ cell connected to the doctors now in detention in Britain,” the paper reports this morning.

In the meantime Dr Haneef’s family life has been torn asunder by the frenzied reaction of the Australian authorities, politicians and the media. And it will no doubt be impossible for Dr Haneef to resume practice in Queensland.

But worst of all, because Australia does not have an enforceable charter or bill of rights, unlike the UK and Canada, Dr Haneef will have little or no chance of bringing legal action against the Australian government for wrongful detention or mistreatment while in detention. There will be no such recourse, even if it turns out that the security agencies were simply jumping at shadows and, moreover, guilty of racial stereotyping in arresting Dr Haneef at Brisbane airport simply because he had a one-way ticket to India.

Meanwhile, the witch hunt on foreign doctors has begun. Even ABC journalists and presenters, who ought to know better, have joined the bandwagon. Should there be more extensive checks on foreign doctors? Do we really know who these people are? One can imagine that any Indian, Pakistani, Malaysian, Indonesian, or Middle Eastern doctor in Australia today is under a cloud because of the outrageous attempt to link the issue of foreign doctors in Australia with the events in the UK.

Even Bob Brown, the Greens Party senator who opposes the Howard government’s anti-terror laws, couldn’t resist an opportunistic spray at skilled migrant visas, arguing that you can buy your way into Australia, and by implication, migrants coming to Australia on such visas, could be terrorists.

Take a long cold shower everyone. Dr Haneef is at this stage an innocent man and his colleague on the Gold Coast, Dr Mohammed Asif Ali was released without charge on Tuesday.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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